I have a copy of Naomi Wolf’s seminal feminist book The Beauty Myth on my desk. I’ll be teaching parts of this text to my freshman students in the fall. The book reminds me of how many powerful, smart women came before me and wrote about women’s lives and why they matter. Often, it’s easy to feel like I have nothing to add to a conversation as established as this one. But I write fiction about women because I am one, grew up in a household full of them, and continue to be curious about who I am and how the gender I was born into and identify with shapes me and the way I see the world. I write about women because women are interesting. We multi-task and intuit like it’s a superpower. Just because our culture doesn’t honor women’s ways of knowing and being as much as men’s doesn’t mean that it isn’t equally as powerful. What’s powerful is the conditioning that takes place to make women feel lesser.
I meet so many talented, intelligent women who will repeat to me exactly what I wrote above. But they, and myself included, often feel doubt that maybe, just maybe, all that equality talk is feel good fluff and that women really are less powerful than men. And then immediately we chastise ourselves for having such an irrational, vicious thought, but then the next day, the thought creeps in again and once again we must dismiss it so that we can be leaders for our daughters, so that we may insist on equality in the domestic sphere because we want our kids to grow up thinking it’s normal for men to cook and clean and for women to hammer a nail in the wall. And all of this is exhausting but necessary work. Imposter syndrome plagues even the strongest women. Am I good enough? Am I perceived as being good enough? What’s the measuring stick of my self-worth? How come I received a shorter stick to start?
I don’t write about women to solve the world’s problems or to deliver a message about third wave feminism. I write about women because I don’t have an answer yet for who a woman is supposed to be. It’s a central question in my most recent novel The Whole Way Home. Writing this book allowed me to engage this question on a much deeper level. If I failed to find an answer, it’s because I wasn’t seeking one to begin with. I don’t write fiction looking for a tidy answer. If I find a clear one, then the answer lacked depth in the first place. Woman, as subject, as character, as symbol, has depth, and I’ll keep posing questions about what it means to be a woman as long as I’m lucky enough to continue writing.
Take It Further: #AskMeAnything
Writers need prompts. We love prompts! Prompts are the equivalent to having a trainer at Orange Theory telling you to switch from the rowing machine to free weights. Direction helps, and goodness knows, writers need direction. We will gladly unload the dishwasher and watch the Bachelorette as an excuse NOT to write. So send me a question about anything and I’ll use it as a prompt. Life. Sex. Death. Marriage. Family. In Laws. Good Manners. The Writing Life. The Publishing Process: Anything goes! Email me through my website. I’ll review the questions, select one, and then I’ll send my response via the newsletter. If we’re in need of a metaphysical answer, I might punt the question to a poet. I happen to live with one!